Well-known authors talk about the popularity of the crime-fiction genre in the country

“There has undoubtedly been an explosion in crime-fiction writing in India,” said author Kishwar Desai as she opened the panel discussion with fellow crime-fiction authors Piyush Jha, Ravi Subramanian, Somnath Batabyal and Stephen Alter. Piyush disagreed saying that crime writing has been part of regional literature for years now; the change that we see today is due to the rise of an Indian generation fed on English crime writers such as Agatha Christie and Jeffrey Archer, who were now coming into their own by writing crime-fiction set in India and told in English.

Crime writing in India has explored niches within itself too, with Ravi writing financial thrillers and Kishwar writing of social issues for instance. “It’s just a reflection of audiences wanting more to read that’s written in good English and entertains,” said Ravi. For Stephen, who already enjoyed a devout readership in children’s fiction, thrillers were a way to access a new audience, while Kishwar believed their popularity is parallelly linked with the “idea of justice becoming accessible” in India — a trend which caused readers to look for ‘justice-fulfilled’ conclusions in fiction too.

No discussion on crime fiction is ever complete, without a heated debate on whether they were “literary” or not, or even required such a classification. Piyush put it bluntly: “I’m respected by the guy at the bookshop; he knows I sell”. “While crime fiction is considered easy to write, people often overlook how tightly plotted they are and the effort that it takes,” said Kishwar. Ravi broke down the crime thriller formula for listeners: “Have a murder in the first five pages, add a twist in the last three and keep your stories short! That’s all you need.” Besides a tight plot, Stephen said good crime thrillers needed a convincing character that writers could invest in and return to for several books. “Identity drives you. The reader should want to know more about the chief character.” He added that writers need to write without apology regarding their work being “literary” or otherwise. “You need to wake up every morning, wanting to do what you do. The way we define ourselves as writers, speaks for the process itself.”